The last time we caught up with Helsinki six-piece Poets of the Fall was at London’s Scala in the summer. Since then, the boys – Marko (vocals), Olli (guitar), Jake (guitar), Captain (keyboards), Jani (bass) and Jari (drums) – have been round the world on their Jealous Gods tour promoting their seventh album. Currently, they’re in Russia, soon to return to their homeland Finland for some live dates before Christmas.
Poets don’t often play in London – a result of northern Europe-heavy touring schedules that lead singer Marko hopes might change. “The fans here in the UK are always happy,” Marko smiles. “They’ll always come with stories to tell of how our music has affected their lives, how it’s helped them: it’s really inspirational to hear.”
An avid believer in wellbeing and positive psychology, Marko is drawn to these healing effects of his music: “I’m into planning and self help,” he chuckles. “If it’s about Psychology, I’ll read it.” And this is a central theme to the band’s ethos. The band started with just Marko and Olli: two young, optimistic friends with a shared vision for their future. Bit by bit, they turned their positive energy into something tangible and they never gave up. “We met twice a week,” Marko says. “One night, we got in this little Vauxhall, drove to the docks at the beach and wrote down a list of what we wanted from our lives on a piece of paper: to have our own record, to make a living from music, to play live. It was quite modest at that point”.
In part, it was their drive that got them to where they are now – they’ve made seven albums in a decade. “I’ve tried slacking, it’s horrible, doesn’t suit me at all,” singer Marko confesses. But aside from working hard, he emphasises that the success is as much a tale about where purposeful self-belief can get you when you put your mind to it. “We didn’t want to just stay in Helsinki and have standard jobs we didn’t enjoy,” Marko reflects. “We wanted more that would give us the most of life. I was being dramatic when we first started, saying that I wanted Hollywood to know my name within three years. Well in the end, they knew my name within two,” he smiles cheerfully. Their single, Carnival of Rust, appeared in the film The Year of the Wolf, and later their song Late Goodbye appeared on the Max Payne 2 game.
There is something about the ethereal quality of Poets’ sound that makes this idea of writing for multi media plausible. While clearly a rock band, noticeably influenced by Metallica vocally, there’s a storytelling element to their artistry that is romantic, sensual and visual. It makes more sense when Marko reveals himself as a bit of a synesthete: “The way I see or experience music, is as a film or snapshots. If I start hearing a piece of music, I usually see what it looks like, like I can see how it sounds.” The melody to Where Do We Draw The Line, from third album Revolution Roulette, was ‘painted’ in his mind while he was on a bus: “It was a yellow evening and there was a guy smoking a cigarette underneath a balcony. He took a drag out of his cigarette and this melody came to my head as I was looking at it.” The result is a visceral-sounding song that conjures the image of hazy smoke beautifully.
On stage, they tell a different story. As Marko sings out to the audience movingly, bassist Jani unveils a quirky funk-like persona reminiscent of Chilli Peppers’ Flee, while Jake and Olli banter and jump around with almost childlike exuberance. There are little aesthetic touches to their live set too, such as flamboyant black feathers around the stage, and then there are the intriguing details in their artwork (their vinyl Temple of Thought album opens out like a magician’s giant pack of playing cards) that add to an overall sense that creativity and play are as much a part of the band’s fabric as the philosophical sentiments in their songwriting. Maybe it’s in this contrast between the sentimental and playful where the band stands out: “Catch me if you can!” Marko starts squealing half way through our interview as he regales us with tales of how the band started before forgetting where he left off. It’s so charming and void of any ego: there is a warmth and kindness in his manner that is so uncharacteristically ‘rock star’ and for that, so refreshing. Could this playful/thoughtful duality have anything to do with living in Finland? “We have a love/hate relationship with Finland,” Marko coyly admits. “It can treat you good, and it can treat you really bad. When it’s bad you feel like you’re whipped: it’s the cold, the wind, this sort of stuffy stiffness… but then you get the other side, the beautiful side, and it makes it all better. It’s an ongoing symbiosis we have with the city: it does affect us.”
This symbiosis with nature seems to conjure up the band perfectly: in sound, in spirit, in work ethic. Poetic imagery seems to be important. Even the name ‘Poets of the Fall’ has a hint of the Greek tragedy about it: romantic and melancholy simultaneously. “It’s about finding your grace under pressure,” Marko says. “You could have a beautiful butterfly come out of the cocoon, but then someone snatches it before its done anything and it’s beautiful chance is gone – basically, it’s a message of carpe diem: don’t hesitate too much, just go ahead and do what you need to do.”
Perhaps we’re in that cocoon phase with Poets of the Fall right now: that still moment as they emerge out of their chrysalis, amassing attention yet accessible enough to still maintain an intimacy with their steadily growing fan base. Some say that’s the best time to go see a band. We had better catch them quick, then. As the Poet lyric so beautifully foreshadows: “Nothing stays the same.”
Temple of Thought is out on vinyl re-release now:
Poets of The Fall website: poetsofthefall.com.